Updated: ICOR boxing gym takes it to the next level in Iowa City

Emily Klinefelter and Clifton Johnson Jr. are co-owners of ICOR boxing gym. — photo by Eleanore Taft

ICOR boxing gym in Iowa City will host grand opening events throughout the month of May in its new space at 1127 Shirken Dr. Co-owners Clifton Johnson Jr. and Emily Klinefelter said the opening will be a family-friendly cookout featuring music, light sparring and demonstrations.

“Now we can stretch our legs a little bit and we’re probably going to be holding shows,” Johnson said of the larger space. “Nothing fancy, but enough to keep boxing alive and motivated in Iowa City. I don’t really believe there’s any other places that throw any shows in Iowa City as of right now.”

They plan to begin hosting boxing and muay thai matches this summer. Johnson and Klinefelter said anyone is welcome at ICOR, from beginners to professionals. “It doesn’t matter what your fitness level is, what your experience level is, you’re not going to be beaten up or made fun of here. You’ll be included,” Klinefelter said.

The larger space will allow them to expand their offerings and hold multiple classes at once. “Our bread and butter is boxing, but we’re always looking for new disciplines to bring in. Whether it’s tae kwon do, karate, wrestling, judo, whatever,” Klinefelter said. “We’re always going to be strong with boxing, but we’d love to be the premier mecca of all martial arts.”

They plan to add classes for kids ages 8-12 after school lets out this summer and they may eventually have classes for even younger children. Klinefelter said most teenagers can keep up with the adult classes, but if there is enough interest they may add a special class just for them.

ICOR members practice their skills in the new space. — photo by Eleanore Taft

Self-defense classes will be another new option. “Someone comes up behind you and grabs you, you’ve got your keys in your hand or you’ve got your purse, what can you do?” Klinefelter said. “You’re in a situation and you have to think fast and if you’ve at least done it before, maybe something will click in your head saying, ‘Oh I’ve learned about this scenario.'”

Klinefelter followed her little sister into boxing. “She saw a flyer for it and she said, ‘I want to do this; it would fun to beat people up.’ And I was her ride at the time. She was thirteen and I was sixteen,” Klinefelter said. Klinefelter began boxing at ICOR, then took over in 2008 and expanded it from an amateur club into a full-scale business, with Johnson as co-owner since 2014.

“I focus more on proper technique, properly throwing the punches, proper defense,” Klinefelter said. “I try to motivate people as well, but that’s my strength: being a good technical coach.”

Klinefelter coaches a member at ICOR. – photo by Eleanore Taft

Johnson began boxing around age 12 and fought for about 10 years before joining the Marines. He also co-owns Lef Jab boxing club in West Grove, Pennsylvania which his father and brother are currently running. He said his style of training has evolved as a result of his time in the marines.

“The Marine Corps definitely instilled a lot of strong ways of building inner strength,” he said. “It’s just as strong mental as it is physical.”

Some of Johnson’s Marines-style training will take place in the space behind the gym, along with other outdoor activities.

“We plan on getting tire flipping, hitting tires with hammers, swinging ropes,” Klinefelter said.


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The owners hope to expand the gym’s community involvement by hosting social activities, ranging from watching fights together to meetings of the Iowa Green Party.

“There’s been a lot of turmoil, I’ll say, with a lot of things going on out there, and people get discouraged. We want to try to bring people together in general,” Johnson said. “We’re more aggressive progressives. We want to be progressive people and really get out there and not just complain but actually take action too.”

Johnson pointed to garbage in the creek behind the gym, saying they plan to get a group together to clean up the surrounding area. “We just want to show people that we’re a part of the community and we want to take care of it because we care about it.”

For now the gym is open to members between about 8 a.m. and 11:30 p.m., but eventually they plan to be open 24 hours. “For people who work late shifts and such, they can get off anytime they want and come in and get their workout in,” Johnson said.

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